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The existence of the Free Blacks of Virginia as a group in United States history would surprise most Americans. The common narrative is that all Africans were brought to this country as slaves with no rights, and systematically received legal privileges after the Civil War in the 1860s and the Civil Rights struggle a century later. The reality differs from this assumption. The first Africans who landed on the shores of Virginia in 1619 began their lives as indentured servants similar to many European immigrants. After finishing their terms of service, these Africans were accorded liberties such as the right to vote, own property, and import both European and African servants. The mid to late 1600s brought the legal transformation of Africans from servants for a term to servants for life, or slaves with no rights. The author employs her own family's history in Virginia to illustrate how the initial cluster of Free Blacks grew through manumissions and births at the same time as their legal rights were systematically and dramatically restricted.

Publication Title

The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice





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Law and Race Commons



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